National organizations pumped in millions of dollars to fuel local passions in the recent statewide election for Initiative 26 - the Personhood Amendment. The initiative, which required nearly 100,000 voter signatures to make it onto the ballot, would have amended "the Mississippi Constitution to define the word 'person' or 'persons' as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."

Mississippi voters rejected the initiative 58 to 42 percent, more than a 130,000 vote margin.

Organizations filing with the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office in support of Initiative 26 included Personhood Mississippi whose director Les Riley led the efforts to get the initiative on the ballot and which spent about $32,000; Personhood PAC which spent almost $600; and Yes on 26 which raised over a million dollars mostly from the Colorado based organization Personhood USA ($824,175) and the Tupelo based American Family Association ($136,134). Yes on 26 hired as its director Brad Prewitt, a Tupelo based attorney who leads the government relations firm the Prewitt Group.

The main opposition group on the initiative was Mississippians for Healthy Families, created by leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood and funded to about $1.3 million in mostly out-of-state, Planned Parenthood related contributions. Their organization Mississippi Trusts Women never raised or spent any money; and the group Parents Against Personhood raised and spent about $5000. Another effective organization opposing the initiative was Students Voting No On 26 which was created, largely funded and staffed by the Feminist Majority Foundation at about $27,000.

Stan Flint, managing director of Jackson's Southern Strategy Group - a government affairs and lobbying firm - was one of the chief consultants hired by Mississippians for Healthy Families. He joined up with Democrat pollster Brad Chism to define the campaign.



A grassroots push - doctors and ministers - that spontaneously embraced defeating Personhood moved the issue 52 percentage points in 90 days.



"The key was to understand the terms of the debate, control the terms of the debate, like a boxer controlling the ring," Flint said. "It was not about life and not about choice, it was about the legal definition of a word that appears 10,000 times in state code, and the extreme and dangerous government intrusion into the life and health of the family."

Flint said there were two pivotal moments in the campaign. "When the doctors - specifically the State Medical Association and the nurses association - came out to oppose, or in the case of State Medical clearly not support, and using our same language: that made a difference. Next came the religious community led by Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray III, and others who opposed it. Doctors and ministers were two legs of credibility that gave people a place to hang their doubts and concerns."

Opponents of the initiative ran a full statewide campaign with paid media, paid and volunteer phone banks, out-of-state operatives for get-out-the-vote rallies, and youth campus organizations - specifically events at the historic black universities. "Without the grassroots that spontaneously embraced this issue, the doctors and the ministers, I don't know how we could have done it. We moved the issue 53 percentage points in ninety days," Flint said.

When Republican Gov. Haley Barbour expressed his concerns about the initiative on national television, Flint said that was "the icing on the cake." Barbour said he was concerned about the initiative's impact on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies. The opponents turned those concerns into a robo-call, radio commercials and web videos. The following day, Barbour cast his absentee ballot and in responding to a question by the media said he voted for the initiative. He asked initiative opponents to stop using his voice and they complied. Meanwhile, the Colorado based Personhood USA had come out with its own attack - against Barbour. They claimed his concerns may have been sparked by a long ago campaign contribution by the pharmaceutical industry (a few thousand dollars among the tens of millions he raised as governor).

The attack on Barbour by Personhood USA was typical of what Flint said was the failures in the proponent's campaign. "They spent too much time attacking the messenger," he said. "Meanwhile we were talking about Mississippi values and families. They can't win a campaign like that."

Les Riley of Personhood Mississippi said in a statement after the election, "Planned Parenthood pulled the wool over the eyes of Mississippians, and I believe that voters will be shocked to learn the truth. They must have been desperate to lie about so many things so often. My family and I invested years of work into this amendment, only to have the largest abortion provider in the country invade Mississippi with their anti-family rhetoric. Knowing that Mississippi voted 'no' because of lies from our opponents makes me more determined than ever to try again, defending the rights of all Mississippians."

Flint would take the challenge, as it appears Personhood Mississippi is still attacking the messenger.







Brian Perry is a partner with a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.